Getting Around LA
November 22, 2006 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to LA in May. Help me learn the lay of the land before I step foot on Hollywood soil.

I'm looking to learn my way around the greater Los Angeles area without having the luxury of being there and driving around. My new LA job may require me to truck around the city delivering scripts, picking up lunch, running errands, etc. and I don't want to be lost and late for the first three months.

Thus, my question is a two-parter...

1) What tips, advice, words of wisdom do you have for me? For example, odd number freeways run North-South, evens run East-West. That sort of thing. Give me all the little tricks you've learned.

2) What resources do I have at my disposal to really sit down and learn my way around? What maps would work the best? Are there any guides, services, sites, blog posts, which specifically take aim at teaching people to get around LA? I'm willing to pay for such a service if it exists. As someone who knows LA, how would you go about teaching someone else?

While I will probably be spending most of my time in and around West Los Angeles (West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica), I'd like to learn my way around the whole city.

Thanks in advance...
posted by JPowers to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Get a Thomas Guide. Everyone in LA uses one, and for good reason. If you learn to navigate the Thomas Guide, navigating LA will be a piece of cake.
posted by unclejeffy at 1:54 PM on November 22, 2006

Get a PS2 and play True Crime Streets of LA.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 2:00 PM on November 22, 2006

Alright, so I lived in the area for a while but really that means nothing. People know its all confusing and they dont let that stop them. All you have to know is that at certain times certain freeways get backed up and you can ask locals about this, they will love the chance to chat about this hot topic. Also, think of LA as one big block with many veins, its not like NYC or even a neural network like Boston, its just a mess that evolved from sprawl, and you have to embrace it for what it is.
posted by Meemer at 2:01 PM on November 22, 2006

The freeways were put in after the surface roads. Some streets, like National Blvd, can behave really strange near freeways.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 2:09 PM on November 22, 2006

Get a digital GPS device, if you can afford one. It will tell you exactly how to get to any address no matter where you are.
posted by clockzero at 2:17 PM on November 22, 2006

I will say the heretical here: I don't like the Thomas Guide. I spent the better part of a year working as a runner and I never used it. Instead, I kept in the car two copies of the whole AAA Los Angeles set of maps, and I used Mapquest before I left for a run. Perhaps if you are not based out of an office, having a TG in the car would be more important, but I find it difficult to use, and the pages are too small to get a good idea of where you're actually going.

Make sure you have a stereo in your car that you like to listen to, because you're going to be doing that a lot. If you don't have an mp3 player and way to route it into your car stereo, spend the money and get one. I used to do language tapes too.

I used to try and figure out if there was some kind of rhyme or reason to the numbering and so forth. Never found one. Addresses on Santa Monica Boulevard reset, I think at Lincoln. San Vicente starts and stops, and should be avoided as a matter of principle. The fastest way across town is usually further south. Stay off the freeways if you can. Washington and Adams Boulevards are your secret weapons to get from southern West LA (Venice, Culver City) to Downtown and back. Melrose is actually pretty good from La Cienega east. Stay off Wilshire, unless you're east of La Cienega. Never take Sunset if you're between Beverly Hills and Highland. Never take Western. Franklin works. Never take Santa Monica unless you are East of La Brea. La Cienega probably means "The Swamp." Don't take Coldwater Canyon over the hill if you can avoid it. Beverly Glen is better. Take Beverly into downtown once you get past Hillhurst. It's going to take you 20 minutes longer than you thought to get there. If you're stuck on the 405, Sepulveda probably won't be any better. If you have to get from west of the 405 and north of Olympic across to mid-city, take Wilshire to Santa Monica to Melrose. Don't ever drive on Wilshire through Beverly Hills. The cool kids live in Los Feliz. The beach is better. Eat at In 'n Out.
posted by mzurer at 2:20 PM on November 22, 2006 [4 favorites]

I would say just look at Google maps to get the lay of the land.

One VERY important thing that messed with my head before I got here: L.A., as you may know, has a lot of smaller cities "embedded' in it, notably Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. [West Hollywood, is its own city, while all other "Hollywoods" are really part of Los Angeles] Anyway, many of these cities have their own address schemes. 3000 Wilshire in Santa Monica is very very different than 3000 Wilshire in Los Angeles. In the area where Beverly Hills, WeHo and L.A. meet, you can literally find the same exact address number on the same street three times within a mile. So be aware of what city you're going to.

I disagree on "always avoid the freeway," but it's a matter of opinion. The 10 in particular is almost always relatively clear. and yeah, San Vicente is a freak-street. it will pop up where you least expect it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:06 PM on November 22, 2006

gasp! mzurer! i had the opposite experience, also as a runner. i LOVED the thomas guides, but NEVER left to go anywhere without mapquesting. the thomas guide, however, is indispensible if you are lost.

know where you are trying to go. for example - if you are heading to an In 'n Out, make sure you know what city it's in. Calling directory assistance and asking for the address of the In 'n Out on Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles isn't going to help you at all, because there are probably 20 In 'n Outs on Santa Monica, none of which are actually in L.A.
posted by casconed at 3:28 PM on November 22, 2006

Get hold of a copy of the LA freeways map, put out by AAA. That will give you a good overview of all the freeways (duh!) and major surface streets in LA and Orange County. My email is in my profile if you want me to send you one. Also, nth on the Thomas Guide. Go ahead and get the combo LA/OC one, you're bound you make use of it at some point.
posted by jvilter at 3:35 PM on November 22, 2006

The 10 can be useful at times for the kinds of areas you're talking about. 405 less so. Use sigalert to get some idea of freeway conditions. See getting around la for some suggestions. Near Santa Monica/Venice, Walgrove (aka 23rd) is a good North-South street to take. In Culver City, look out for traffic light cameras.
posted by dorab at 3:41 PM on November 22, 2006

I second the notion of a little GPS unit for your car, if you can possibly fit it into your budget. I moved here two years ago and I'd still be pretty lost without mine - I can go exploring ANYWHERE and still be able to find my way home with ease.
posted by DandyRandy at 3:55 PM on November 22, 2006

I've lived here 24 years now, and I still get lost all the time. GPS would be cool, as there really arent enough signs. As for freeway driving, I'm a big fan of for plugging in your regular routes and alternate routes and figuring out which will be fastest.
posted by sirion at 5:51 PM on November 22, 2006

I use my Not For Tourists guide to LA way more than my Thomas. It is organized in a much more accessible way and has a poster sized map of LA county that folds up to fit inside.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:01 PM on November 22, 2006

I moved here toward the end of 1999 and barely knew anything about the lay of the land.

What I recommend:

1. Get a Thomas Guide or, better yet, Mapquest driving direction printouts for wherever you're going. I've never been a Thomas Guide owner, but they're ubiquitous.

2. Drive around the city and get lost. Then find your way back. This is the best way to get a sense of what's out there.

3. Rush hour is 6 - 10 AM and 3 - 8 PM, give or take.

4. Lie. No one will be the wiser if you tell them there was an accident or just good old fashioned traffic backup. It happens all the time in LA. Just don't dilly-dally. It's hard enough to get where you're going in a reasonable time without futzing about.

Anyway, good luck. After just a few weeks of living here, I was driving around, picking up lunch, scripts, etc...Trust me, you'll get lost a few times but you'll be totally fine.

P.S. Venice Blvd is often a great way to cover a lot of East-West ground.
posted by dhammond at 6:59 PM on November 22, 2006

if you're not sure how long it's gonna take you, it'll take ya an hour, no matter where you're going.
posted by menace303 at 8:02 PM on November 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Traffic is especially hellish from 8-10 AM.

Parking police are fascists. Don't park on Wilshire after 4 PM unless you want a tour of an impound lot. Don't flake out and park in front of a hydrant because the curb won't always be marked red. It's not illegal to park at a broken meter (I think -- too paranoid to do it). Always read the parking signs as there are lots of rules.

Another GPS recommendation. I'm pretty happy with my Garmin StreetPilot c340. It's like a MapQuest in your car that can adjust to detours. The street/exit call outs can be a little late if you're driving fast.
posted by evil holiday magic at 9:26 PM on November 22, 2006

The fast lane on the freeways is often the safest place to be, but only if you drive as fast as most of the others there. The other lanes have too many people changing in and out of them.

Beware of attempting to drive random surface streets. When they hit hills, they go all curvy and may suddenly end. If you want to avoid the freeway, it pays to know what you're doing.

GPS is fabulous, but I've not used it in LA. I have a Garmin IQue (pda w/gps) that is easy to move between cars and for walking. It gives voice directions, too.

Be aware, when looking at housing, a hillside that is pretty and green (not trees) in spring is not unlikely to be plowed under, to prevent grass fires.
posted by Goofyy at 9:46 PM on November 22, 2006

Lots of great tips already covered, especially mzurer. I'm also going to recommend the GPS if you need to learn LA in a hurry, because if you don't have the luxury of time, it can be pretty damn confusing. If that's a bit too pricey right now, then buy a Thomas Guide, always consult yahoo maps (my preference over mapquest) and always check before you leave.

*Study google maps to find alternative routes, no route is truly secret, but sometimes it can be easier and more pleasant to take a windy back road instead of stop-start on the freeway.
*If you're mainly going to be on the westside/hollywood then the 405 and the 10 will be the only freeways you really use, but mostly you will use surface streets.
*Santa Monica Blvd splits into "Santa Monica Blvd" and "Little Santa Monica Blvd" without any clear signage, and you may drive to an address on Little Santa Monica and be very confused. Study the maps!
*There is no rhyme or reason to any of the road layouts.
*Traffic jams happen anytime, anywhere for no apparent reason. The roads are never empty, just less busy.
*Driving across the sepulveda pass between the valley and westside can be truly awful. Avoid going south in the mornings or north in the evenings. Learn back routes through the hills (Beverly Glen, Roscomare etc).
*Be aggressive, but careful. Many idiots on the road.

Having said that, LA is a really fun city, and traffic/housing costs aside its a great place to work and play.
posted by Joh at 10:18 PM on November 22, 2006

do not move south of the ten freeway. the 101 is hell no matter what time of day, the 405 during rush hour. good blogs to read are and - follow the links. nikky finke's rocks.

get a decent car. you won't be able to get anywhere without it and you will be spending LOTS of time in it. something reliable with a working A/C. yes, a thomas guide is still key, you will often find directions to mention pages in there, but so is google maps. forget the PS2 game someone else mentioned - the neighborhoods look nothing like the real thing and you won't be able to recognize your own street. they just scanned the map.

I like the GPS gadget advise someone here gave. often, you'll sit on the freeway wondering whether there is a quick side road and that thing could be handy.

The 10 in particular is almost always relatively clear.
like hell it is. you don't know what you're talking about. I commuted from marina del rey to silverlake blvd for almost two years - onto the 91, then the 405 north, then the 10. especially the 405/10 interchange is HELL during rush hours. if I left work at any time during the day or evening, it would take me 45-60 minutes to get home. after 10pm it would take 20 minutes. the 10 is a giant clusterfuck and the only exception is the part west of the 405, the part that runs through santa monica towards the PCH.

have fun in LA. it's actually a great place to live, even though everyone will tell you otherwise. it's hip to hate that place but it's still california.
posted by krautland at 11:30 PM on November 22, 2006

oh yeah - get car insurance no matter how tight you are. get uninsured motorist coverage and make sure they will cover a rental car.

two reasons:

(1) lots of uninsured motorists out there
(2) driving without insurance can cost you $450 and your ride can get impounded.
posted by krautland at 11:32 PM on November 22, 2006

I grew up in LA but haven't lived there for 20 years. However, on a trip back to my birthplace last week I found the traffic to be much, much worse than even two years ago. For goodness sake, the carpool lanes are now even stop and go.

Here is my recommendation: Thomas Guides used to be all one needed. But with the heavy traffic I'd get a GPS. BUT you should pay the extra to connect it to live traffic conditions that will allow your system to tell you the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B at that moment.

Second, once you get the lay of the land, you will be able to take advantage of "shortcuts" as you become a more experienced LA driver (I use the term liberally, given the traffic, shortcuts aren't short, but just maybe shorter.

Buy/Rent your home close to where you work if possible. Back when I lived in SoCal, Glendale was not a place I'd move to. However, now, the traffic is a lot less than West LA. West LA/Santa Monica is non-stop traffic. And I'd say "rush hour" is just about any time during the day, 10am -1pm being about the lightest time.

I used to drive 300-400 miles a week when I lived in LA. I now ride the subway in DC to work and my five year old car has only 15K miles.

Good luck.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 7:23 AM on November 23, 2006

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